ATLANTA – Greetings from the George Dome, where the 8-1 Seahawks will play the 2-6 Falcons on Sunday in a rematch that is just dripping with storylines.
The last time the Seahawks were here – Jan. 13 for a divisional playoff game – it was the Falcons who had the best record in the NFC (13-3), and the Seahawks who came within a matter of seconds and yards of pulling off the upset before losing 30-28 on a 49-yard field goal. This time, it’s the Seahawks who have the best record in the conference, and the Falcons who are looking to pull the upset and salvage something from their disappointing start.
But the Seahawks will be shorthanded for what appears to be a mismatch of a rematch. Pro Bowl center
So it’s back to the line that started in Weeks 4-5, when Unger was out with an arm injury:
Those storylines have been told, and retold. So let’s look at one player who is expected to return, and another who makes unexpected returns.
The Falcons should have wide receiver Roddy White back after he missed the past three games with hamstring and ankle injuries. That would be a plus for Atlanta, because wide receiver Julio Jones was lost for the season in Week 5 with a foot injury. Despite missing the past three games, Jones remains second on the team with 41 receptions.
“Roddy has been a guy who’s made a lot of plays for us for a long time, and we’re just excited that, if he’s back, he’ll be able to be effective for us,” Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, when White was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after being able to do more in practice each day during the week.
But Smith also cautioned, “The thing that you’re concerned about any time you’re coming back after a long layoff is the conditioning part of it.”
In the absence of White and Jones, Harry Douglas has 22 receptions while stepping in for Jones in the past three games, but Darius Johnson and Drew Davis have combined for 14 at the other receiver spot during that span.
Now for the guy with the unexpected returns:
But it seems the Falcons are more concerned about Tate catching the punt at the Seahawks’ 4-yard line than returning it to the Bucs’ 25.
“Well, he’s not going to fair-catch,” Smith said. “It’s going to be very important that we do a good job with our directional punting and try to shrink the field. When you do that, then you have to be able to overpopulate that side of the field.”
Can one player make that much difference for either team?
We’re all about to find out, with kickoff and televised coverage on FOX (Q/13 in Seattle) set for 10 a.m. PT.